What is “Good Enough”?

just got back from the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference in Dallas. This is an annual event and is the largest gathering of Christian fiction writers anywhere. Close to seven hundred (that’s right– a reverse 007!) writers attended. I know because my good friend’s name ends with a Zw, and she was 688/688.

Amazing.

While there, I attended a talk given by a MAJOR Christian publisher about a relatively large survey they did on Christian fiction readers. Don’t quote me, but the survey included over 200,000 participants and focus groups were conducted in three large cities. Just to say a lot of people participated–not just me and Grandpa Joe.

Since many of you may be salivating over some of those results, I’ll share a few here. The largest categories selling are: #1 Amish (shouldn’t be a surprise, just look at any CBD catalog and they are leading by 5-10 pages), #2 Mystery/Suspense/Thriller (my eyes glazed over with excitement right here!) ,and #3 Historical Romance. The romance categories were split among three genres: Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, and Romantic Suspense so if all three were lumped together, the romance category may have had a higher overall percentage.

They asked “what would you like to see more of in Christian Fiction?” and the intriguing answer there was gritty is okay. Not everything needs to be wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end. Dangling questions are okay.

What surprised me was when one of the presenters said, “Should we move away from highly curated content to just good enough content?”

To be honest that floored me–in a bad way.

What is the purpose of a traditional publishing house? Some say they are gatekeepers. I like to view them more as museum curators. What is the benefit of having a museum curator? It’s so that my seven-year-old’s finger art isn’t next to Rembrandt. That when you pay your money, in the form of a museum ticket or as a book on the shelf, you know someone somewhere who gets exposed to LOTS of art and books picked the very best ones. And you’ll be getting your money’s worth.

Are there some self-published authors who are putting out high quality novels? Yes, absolutely. Are they the majority? No. If we are honest, they are not.

Can you buy a horrible, traditionally published novel? Yes, but it should be edited to near perfection. That’s the other part you pay for.

Proof, my debut medical thriller, went through four rounds of edits. Are there typos–yes. But I can guarantee there are fewer in the whole novel than in the first chapter of a few self-published novels I’ve started to read.

What disturbs me is when a curator/publisher says perhaps we don’t need as many editing runs. Perhaps “good enough” is okay for the masses. They won’t notice the difference anyway. Those are my words–not hers.

But isn’t that the implication? There are so many “so-so” things out there that we really don’t need to be consumed with quality anymore?

To me the quality of the editing is the one thing differentiating traditional and self-published books in many cases. So, if that’s gone, the strive to put the best product out there–what will be the difference then?

Will traditional publishers actually place the last nail in their own coffin if they adopt such an attitude?

What do you think? If you’re published, do you think there are too many editing rounds? Would fewer be better? How should traditional publishers continue to offer value in ways other than editing?

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26 thoughts on “What is “Good Enough”?

  1. I’m with you. Not only do books need more editing, but I dare say as Christians we are doing a disservice if we compromise and sell mediocrity. I would have been floored too, in a bad way.

    • It was something I never thought I’d hear from a publisher. But, I’ve heard Michael Hyatt make comments along this line too in relation to his blog. That a few typos are okay and people will tell him to correct it. No big deal. His view is the constant editing is paralyzing in a sense and you won’t put stuff out there. Interesting take.

      • There is definitely a balance between making sure a document is the best it can be, and not getting bogged down in pursuit of perfection that can never be achieved.

        I try to always give myself at least two rounds of edits across at least three days, on a blog post. This is because I can catch more items that are worded poorly, or easily misread, if I have first put it aside for a little while.

        However, some of the best posts I’ve done have been under tight time constraints with little edit time. While not ideal, I didn’t let it stop me from posting, and it paid off in the long run.

        Also, the blog media is a bit more tolerant of minor errors than the printed word. If I notice an error (or potential improvement) on a blog post I can easily update it, and it is then updated for all future readers.

        Not so with a printed and bound book…

    • Joe makes an excellent point about the blog readers being a bit more tolerant. We certainly need to be forgiving and understanding of each other. (Maybe more sleep would be worth a typo now and then?) I’m just afraid, like Jordyn, that this lackadaisical attitude of good-enough is transferring to all media.

  2. It disturbs me that ARCs are going out to book reviewers unedited. Sample chapters for an author’s next book are being included at the end of a release as a selling point unedited. In my opinion a substantive, a macro, and a copy edit, should be enough to polish a book to a high sheen. When it isn’t there is something wrong in the editing department.

    • I’m not sure I mind this as much as to give the “perfected” copy to endorsers before a release date because it is a challenge and time frames can be short but I do think there needs to be a clear note that there are likely mistakes in the galley.

  3. It sounds like I’m with the majority here – more editing.

    As writers, we should never be content to let less than excellent work have our name on it. As Christians, bearing the name of Christ, we should abhor the suggestion.

    Thanks for bringing up the discussion, Jordyn!

  4. I’m unpublished at this point, but I don’t think publishers should lower their standards. That said, I struggle every day with the so-so things that are out there because no one does seem to notice. I see typos and errors and missing words on popular blogs every day (not every blog!), and I wonder if the readers even notice. Perhaps the readers, a part of our increasingly uneducated population, don’t even know that they are typos and errors. As for me and my blog, we will continue to edit.

    • I think this is what concerns me, too. And I worry that this may be a down side to many people putting product out there that does lack quality. Many self-published books are cheaper to buy. So– are consumers happily buying cheaper product and becoming used to “good enough”. I think one answer to that would be to have traditional publishers lower the price for e-books specifically.

      • Excellent point, Jordyn. If the quality work was priced competitively with the so-so work, it might get in front of readers more. I know we’re supposed to be talking about writing here, but I think a lot of it also goes back to quality of education. We need stronger English programs at all levels of the educational ladder. My husband is a college professor, and he says that the English professors are paid less than the computer science professors. That saddens me, especially when English is the foundation of communication and nearly every other discipline.

    • I’m not pubbed yet, either, and I absolutely despair sometimes at the “quality” (actually, lack thereof) of traditionally published Christian fiction books that are now coming out. Maybe that’s because I pretty much exclusively read on an e-reader now (Nook), and maybe they still have more problems with typos, formatting, etc. Most of the books I read are traditionally published, and it just shocks me how badly done some of them are now. I’ve only read a few self-pubbed books, and they were terrible, despite the authors touting them as being high up on Amazon’s lists.

      I don’t know at this point if I will ever be published. And I will be honest that I’m seriously considering self-pubbing. Either way, what I write MUST be highest quality, professionally edited, something I would be very proud to claim as my own work. We owe the best of who we are to Jesus. Giving in to mediocrity is an insult to Him, as well as to the readers who may pick up our books. We should give them the best, too.

  5. Wow. I can’t believe that people would be advocating “good enough.” CBA suffers from a reputation of not being as good – an unfair one in my opinion. Even if that wasn’t the case, Christians should strive for excellent, even in putting a high quality product out for sale.

    Mystery/Suspense/Thriller as #2? Whoo-hoo. Hey, if we claim Romantic Suspense, then it is even better.

    • Jason– that is an excellent point about the rep of Christian books and how adopting that attitude may make it a reality. I wonder what general market publishers think about this.

  6. Jordyn, thanks for such an insightful post. We’ve all heard the phrase “good enough for government work” which means accepting lesser quality. When it comes to Chirst, nothing should ever be “good enough.” He deserves our excellence in everything we do, especially those of us in the ministry of writing. Authors and publishers need to work together to produce a quality product that honors God, no matter how many edits it takes. And, while there will always be errors because perfection awaits us in heaven, we should never compromise our efforts.

  7. I’m a reader and reviewer, not a published author, and my opinion is a resounding NO! on the less editing. Nothing frustrates me more than a sloppily written/edited novel. I think Christian publishers are absolutely “hoisting their own petards” if they go this direction, especially if they want to get their message into the hands of non-believers. Christians already often have a reputation of being simplistic, gullible, non-educated, folks. Adopting a “good enough” attitude will only serve to perpetuate that stereotype.

  8. Jordyn, With bad editing, I put books down and then refuse to read the author ever again. I can accept one or two typos (we who live in glass houses, you know), however, I read one ebook with several cross-outs. That’s NOT a typo. The book was okay–a debut. However, bad editing with a debut author killed any interest in ever reading her again.

    I, and I say this with tears in my heart because of a long tale of woe, want to be rejected rather than have a mediocre novel accepted and printed. I want novels in your “museum.”

  9. I’m glad to hear that Christian readers are being vocal about wanting more grittiness and dissonance—more true struggle—in Christian fiction. It’s been one of my biggest pet peeves with the genre. And as far as editing goes, I think traditional publishers are doing themselves a huge disfavor in skipping editing rounds. The number 1 complaint I hear from other readers, especially of e-readers and self-published authors, is too many grammatical and punctuation errors. Punctuation should be, in a sense, “invisible.” It’s there to help the reader. A well-edited book’s grammar and punctuation will not attract much attention. If Christian authors want to get a point across, they should not have bad grammar competing for the reader’s attention.

    • “I’m glad to hear that Christian readers are being vocal about wanting more grittiness and dissonance—more true struggle—in Christian fiction. It’s been one of my biggest pet peeves with the genre.”

      Same here, Ariel!

  10. Jordan, I cannot imagine it would ever be good for the industry to dumb-down our work. As a published author, I am thankful for the editing process and appreciate the expertise publishing professionals bright to the work. Thanks for a thought-provoking, informative post.

  11. Keynote speaker Michael Hyatt got everyone motivated with his words of wisdom. He encouraged all to promote and build their platform. Michael also told the audience, “Now is the best time ever to be an author.” There are many opportunities out there for authors, but my favorite thing he mentioned was not to be a high maintenance author. I have heard authors, agents and editors talk about other authors who are demanding, critical and difficult to work with. No one likes these kind of people. I agree with Michael, don’t be one of “those kind.” Be an author you can be proud to be. “Traditional publishing is far from dead” and Michael says that more books are being published today than ever before.

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